Investigating whether yogis can voluntarily control heartbeat
This post explores heart-stopping claims of yogis, in three parts:
1) Experiments in India, lab tests with yogis
2) Heart-stopping claims of famous yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
3) How to “stop” heartbeat and pulse
“Prominent among the many claims of unusual bodily control that emanate from practitioners of Yoga is the ability to stop the heart and radial pulse”, says Wenger, Bagchi, and Anand in Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse1. During the author’s investigations in India they searched for persons who claimed to stop the heart or pulse. Assisted by many individuals including the Indian press, they found four people for their experiment.
Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart
Summary of article from Circulation: Journal of American Heart Association, Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse:
Equipment and Procedures
Briefly, lab equipment consisted of electroencephalograph (EEG) for recording respiration, skin temperature, electrical skin conductance, and finger blood volume changes. Procedures varied according to the cooperativeness of the subject and other circumstances.
Four claimed to stop or slow heart
The first two subjects claimed they could stop the heart. The second two claimed to slow heartbeat.
No. 1. Shri Sal Gram, at Yogashram, New Delhi, made four attempts at one session. Little change occurred; changes in heart rate were small. There was no indication of heart arrest. The subject refused further cooperation.
No. 2. Shri Ramananda Yogi, of Andhra, age 33, at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, made seven attempts on two days, and additional experiments on a third day. His pulse, although very feeble, could be felt. No heart sounds could be heard but heartbeat was detected using EEG.
No. 3. Shri T. Krishnamacharya, of Madras, age 67, at Vivekananda College, Madras. In 1935 this subject had apparently demonstrated to a Dr. Brosse that he had stopped his heart. This time he would only agree to demonstrate the method he had employed, pranayama (yogic breathing), but with minimum apparatus attached. There was no absence of heart sounds but at one time the pulse was not detectable in either wrist.
No. 4. Shri N. R. Upadhyaya, age 37, at Kaivalyadhamna, Lonavla. This subject did not claim to stop the heart, but only to slow it. The maneuver occurred in the reclining position. He was tested on three days. There was little change in magnitude of heartbeat but significant slowing of heart rate.
Methods to “control” heart
The method of “control” of heartbeat for the first three subjects involved holding the breath and considerable tensing of the muscles in the abdomen and thorax, variations of yogic exercises or pranayama.
The researchers concluded the veins that returned blood to the heart were restricted but that the heart was not stopped. While sounds from the heart and pulse were weakened or disappeared.
The fourth subject, with different intervening mechanisms of muscle control, did markedly slow his heart for a maximum of three seconds.
Conclusion of experiments
The researchers said it was obvious that the four subjects did not voluntarily control the heart muscle. The abdominal and thorax muscles were used to intervene and restrict blood flow to slow heart rate, or to weaken or eliminate sounds from the heart and pulse. Only one subject could be said to have markedly “stopped” or significantly slowed the heart for a few seconds.
Read the entire article Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse, Circulation: Journal of American Heart Association
Heart-stopping claims by famous yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
In 1920 Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in the U.S. The famous yogi wrote his Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) and was the first Indian-guru to permanently make his home in the West.
Yogananda made many claims that yogis could and should stop heartbeat. Here are four claims made by the famous yogi:
“Yogis who know how to operate the switch of the heart, and to control their heartbeats, can quit the body quickly and at will; or stay in it as long as they wish…Only those who have practiced control of the heartbeat and who have learned to live without oxygen–by eating less carbonizing food and by preventing the decay of tissues in the body through definite yoga training in meditation–can consciously experience death at will.2
If one can learn to control the heartbeat, he can experience conscious death, as did St. Paul (“I die daily”–I Corinthians 15:31) and many yogis of India who have practiced this Hong-Sau [concentration] Technique, and through it achieved mastery over the action of the heart.3
Only advanced souls who can live without breathing or heartbeat are consciously aware of the true state of death (in which the breath and heartbeat also stop).4
Please practice these two states–of sensory-motor samadhi with heartbeat and sensory-motor relaxation samadhi without heartbeat–and you will know this universe as God’s cosmic cinema house”.5
How to “stop” heartbeat and pulse: secrets and illusions
Despite yoga-guru’s claims, yogis have failed to “stop” the heart in lab experiments for more than a few seconds.
The scientific evidence is slim to none that yogis can voluntarily stop their heart. We need more and better experiments to seriously entertain the heart-stopping claims.
In the meantime, maybe we can learn something from mentalists who “stop” heartbeat and pulse?
How to stop heartbeat and pulse trick: GeTrue
A man stops his heart: Guy Bavli
Late Late Show: Keith Barry makes his heart stop
Questions for readers: Do you know of comprehensive experiments of stopping the heartbeat? Can you cite any yogis who’ve claimed to stop the heart? Please cite sources in your comments.
1 Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse, M.A.Wenger, Ph.D., B.K. Bagchi, Ph.D., and B.K. Anand, M.D., Circulation, Volume XXIV, December 1961
2 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 90, Overcoming Fear of Death
3 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 21, The Technique of Concentration
4 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 135, Disembodied Souls–Part 2, The Metaphysical Technique of Contacting Loved Ones
5 Letter from Paramahansa Yogananda to his disciple Rajarsi Janakananda (James J Lynn), written in Ranchi, India, 6 Aug, 1936. From Rajarsi Janakananda: A Great Western Yogi, Self-Realization Fellowship